ONE MORE Parliament session has ended and once again it is time for the aam aadmi to wonder if they have wasted their time and energy queuing up to vote for a bunch of representatives whose behavior can, at best, be termed as irresponsible.
Of all the sessions, the budget session is the most important one where the government seriously seeks to take the opposition along to have as much business transacted as possible.
I have been indulging in Parliament gazing for over 35 years and I have reason to believe that current session which began on February 22 and ended last Friday has set many records and created many unhealthy political practices. In saying this, I am merely quoting the presiding officers of the two houses and this is what they said in their valedictory speeches: The Vice- President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari said that one “ cannot avoid the impression that much time was lost in disruptions and adjournments.
… The trends in the conduct of business have invited adverse comments and lowered the image of the legislature in the eyes of the public”. In the lower house, Speaker Meira Kumar was no less scathing while advocating sweeping reforms, including the shifting the question hour, and vowed to talk to all party leaders to “ save the honour of the house.” Their angst isn’t misplaced. According to one study, while the First Lok Sabha devoted 49 percent of its time to legislative business, the 14th Lok sabha devoted less than 25 percent. The study also shows that while in 2000, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha met for 5.5 and 4.4 hours respectively every day, it had come down to 4.3 and 3.3 hours by the end of 2007. The stats of the current 15th Lok Sabha, I am sure, will paint an even more dismal picture.
When you consider that each minute of Parliament costs the exchequer over Rs 26,000, it is obvious that our Parliamentary democracy comes with a hefty price tag.
The aam aadmi who send MPs to parliament face serious difficulties in their everyday life: rising prices, deteriorating law and order, the menace of Maoism and terrorism and many more. But what do our politicians do? They cut deals so that everyone lives and lets live. All political parties including the ruling Congress struck and broke alliances to score brownie points at the cost of important legislation. For them, disrupting the proceedings of the house to seek an apology for an inadvertent remark was more important than discussing important bills that have serious ramifications.
There is a decline in the seriousness with which legislative business is conducted in both houses and many bills are rushed through without any discussion Hamid Ansari whatsoever. Even the annual budget was passed this time without much discussion. The far- reaching Prevention of Torture Bill was adopted by the Lok Sabha last Thursday with only 25 of the 543 MPs present. Other important bills like Women’s Reservation and Nuclear Liability were introduced with much fanfare to be withdrawn later.
To give credit where due, it must be said that the government has weathered the parliamentary storm in a much easier way than expected. The budget session began with the entire Opposition joining forces to corner the government on a whole slew of issues from price rise and fertiliser subsidy removal to the civil nuclear liability bill. It ended with the Opposition in disarray and the government crossing many milestones: successfully introducing the nuclear bill which will now be considered by the standing committee on energy; dividing the opposition on the caste based census as one section broke ranks and lavished praise on the regime. Be it the cut motion on the finance bill, women’s reservation, nuclear liability, the foreign universities bill and so many more, the government has struck private deals with sections of the opposition to ensure its victory.
But I fear such deal making is going to come with a heavy price tag. Parliament is losing its relevance as a body meant for creating consensus on national issues. Worse, as the old entrenched leaders dominate the front rows and continue playing the game of caste and community politics, the young are confined to the backbenches to play second fiddle. Once upon a time, the backbench strength of the major parties was such that titans like Madhu Limaye, Piloo Mody, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Chandrashekar, Jyotirmoy Basu, Indrajit Gupta, emerged. We are more likely to see political pygmies in future.